Thursday, February 27, 2014

Searching for El Dorado - Part VII

When I started writing about my travels I thought that three posts might be the right number.  Most stories are in three acts.  Then when I realized that I needed more posts I thought maybe five would be good.  Again, there are many stories told in five acts.  Well, now I'm on my seventh post (don't worry - it will be my last).  I decided to explore the number seven to see if there was any significance.  I won't bore you with the details - but seven is possibly the most interesting number - both mathematically and spiritually.  Not that I necessarily believe in numerology - but I thought it would be interesting to read what they think about the number seven

"The number 7 is the seeker, the thinker, the searcher of Truth (notice the capital "T"). The 7 doesn't take anything at face value -- it is always trying to understand the underlying, hidden truths. The 7 knows that nothing is exactly as it seems and that reality is often hidden behind illusions."

I'm not sure there is a better way to describe what my motivation was for my trip - or really what my perspective is on life in general.  With that in mind - here is my last post on my trip.

Nebraska gets a bad rap.  It's that boring state people drive through before they get to the splendor of the west.  It is like purgatory - a way station to heaven.  I've lived in a lot of places with bad raps.  I grew up near Detroit - I've lived in Baltimore.  I've found that these places usually have a bad reputation because they represent something that the average white American finds threatening.  Usually having to do with the fact there are a lot of people of color within a particular zip code.

With Nebraska the threat is the vastness of the prairie.  I was trying to find a quote from William Least Heat-Moon about how the vastness of the prairie is threatening - but I can't find it.  But looking for that quote reminded me what a great traveler and writer he is - so, I'm going to copy a quote of his I like and then find a picture on my computer (not even necessarily from my trip) that I think embodies that quote.  It will be an interesting way to wrap things up - I think.

“What you've done becomes the judge of what you're going to do - especially in other people's minds. When you're traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don't have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.”

“Instead of insight, maybe all a man gets is strength to wander for a while. Maybe the only gift is a chance to inquire, to know nothing for certain. An inheritance of wonder and nothing more.”

“A man who couldn't make things go right could at least go. He could quit trying to get out of the way of life. Chuck routine. Live the real jeopardy of circumstance. It was a question of dignity.”

“With a nearly desperate sense of isolation and a growing suspicion that I lived in an alien land, I took to the road in search of places where change did not mean ruin and where time and men and deeds connected.”

“The biggest hindrance to learning is fear of showing one's self a fool.”

“There are two kinds of adventurers: those who go truly hoping to find adventure and those who go secretly hoping they won't.”  

“All of those things - rock and men and river - resisted change, resisted the coming as they did the going. Hood warmed and rose slowly, breaking open the plain, and cooled slowly over the plain it buried. The nature of things is resistance to change, while the nature of process is resistance to stasis, yet things and process are one, and the line from inorganic to organic and back is uninterrupted and unbroken.”

"I thought how far I was from where and when this journey began, how I was so distant from that fellow passing for me twenty months ago, the one so eager to learn the secrets of river passage. Could he - the me of that moment - and I sit down together, he would want to know what I knew and absorb what I had experienced, and he would regard me enviously, just as I do those men who have returned from the moon. But there would be forever a difference between him and me: I went and he did not. He set the voyage in motion, but he could not take it. Just as I, who lay on the Dakota hill, could not know whether Nikawa would reach the Pacific, he could never see the outcome of his preparations, unless somewhere, on some far other side, time permits us to meet our past selves, all those we have been. Our physical components change every seven years, so our brains are continuously passing along memories to a stranger; who we have been is only a ghostly fellow traveler. As for me, what might I learn from him who laid out the voyage or from all those others I once was." . . .
"What a report I might deliver to them about where they have sent me! And how they could remind me of first kisses and death, the Haitian mountains at sunset and the Ozark hills at night. They could redraw the faded lines of the long map of my journey here, point out clearly where it was I took a road other than the one they intended, and they could tell me whether they liked that divagation or not, whether they found it a good one or rankly stupid. Were human memory total and perfect, perhaps I'd be only one person from start to finish, but forgetfulness cuts me off from who I've been so that hourly I am reborn. To twist Santyana's words, I who cannot fully remember my past am condemned to proceed without it."



The End

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Searching for El Dorado - Part VI

You are probably wondering if there is any plan to these posts by now.  Yes and no.  I start by looking at pictures I took - and from that come memories of the trip.  Then maybe it makes me think about a poem or a quote.  Then I just start writing.  Like now for instance - I know I'm going to show a bunch of pictures of a hike that I did in Boulder.  That might be a proper end to this entire series of posts on my trip.  Or maybe I'll end with some pictures I took of the Oregon Trail in Nebraska.  Maybe I'll have an entire other post about those pictures.  At this point - I don't know.  I'm just going to start writing.
View from my aunt's front yard.

"Who has not felt the urge to throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence." - John Muir

On my last full day in Boulder that's exactly the urge that I felt.  My cousin told me that there was a trail head only two blocks away from their house - so, I decided I'd venture out and see what I could see.

For full disclosure - these pictures are going to be in reverse chronological order - because I took more pictures coming down than going up.  But going up makes for a better story.  So, here is the lowest picture I took.  As you can see - it doesn't take long to have a pretty awesome view.  Those of you who have never been to Colorado might be surprised to see how flat it is to the east of Boulder.  The truth is that the whole eastern half of the state is very flat.  It kind of slowly slips down toward Nebraska - like a dish dryer slopes down to a sink.

This is the view to the North.
It's amazing how just 20-30 minutes on a trail like this can make a large change in perspective.  In the distance is downtown Boulder.  All of the cool restaurants, bookstores, and coffee shops - they are all in, what seems like from here, a very small area.

As I was going up - I was also moving west and south.  I found myself retreating into the forest.


I got so high that the ground was now covered with snow.  I was no longer protected from the wind.  The trees were waving back and forth.  At times it seemed like they might fall on me.  I pressed on.

I finally came to a place where to go west was to go down in elevation.  I was now fully into the wild (or at least it felt that way).  To the west there were the Rocky Mountains.

Before coming down the way I came - I tried to find a view looking east.  I found that I wasn't in the wild at all - but rather a place that people could drive to in the summer.  There was an amphitheater - a sign of civilization going back to the Greeks. 

Humans evolved at the edge of the forest - or was it the edge of the savannah?  The most beautiful places to me are always where two kinds of topography meet.  Hills overlooking the sea.  A trail entering the woods. 

As humans I think we are meant to live on that edge.  We are supposed to move freely between the forest and the savannah.  We need to move between light and dark.  None of us are entirely one thing.  Most of us are not even two things - we are a multitude of things.  And we must feed all of our interests in order to be satisfied.  We must allow ourselves to be social and alone; talkative and silent; regret nothing and be accountable for our actions; be men of action and think before we act; be vulnerable with others and guarded; cry easily and not let our emotions get the better of us; work hard and allow ourselves to rest. 

“For there is not a single human being, not even the idiot, who is so conveniently simple that his being can be explained as the sum of two or three principal elements; and to explain so complex a man as Harry by the artless division into wolf and man is a hopelessly childish attempt. Harry consists of a hundred or a thousand selves, not of two. His life oscillates, as everyone's does, not merely between two poles, such as the body and the spirit, the saint and the sinner, but between thousand and thousands.”   Herman Hesse - Steppenwolf

I guess it will end up being seven posts after all . . .

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Searching for El Dorado - Part V

O Me! O Life!
By Walt Whitman

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring — What good amid these, O me, O life?

That you are here — that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

The next day I drove from Flagstaff to Boulder, Colorado.  It’s a long drive – but at least there’s a lot to see on the way.  The picture above is from just outside Arches National Park.  It’s the place where the Road Runner cartoons got their topography.  Monument National Park was another beautiful place I passed by – as well as the mountain biking mecca of Moab, Utah. 

Entering Colorado was a bit of a relief.  I have visited Colorado many times in my life.  I have some family there – including an aunt and a cousin who I visited this time around.  Kendra and I were just here in August.  We stayed in Fort Collins, Steamboat Springs, and Vail.  All unique places with their own vibe – and yet all much more familiar feeling than the moonscape I had been in the last few days.  There were trees here and proper rivers.
Things got a little interesting as I went over the Vail pass – at 10,662 feet it was the highest point I would reach on my trip.  It had started to snow just before I reached the pass.  I saw a bunch of traffic on the other side of the highway.  The grade of the highway is 7-8% coming down the other side of Vail pass.  My little Scion isn’t exactly made for those kinds of conditions.  I tuned into a radio station that was giving traffic updates.  I soon learned that they had closed down the highway going west bound at the Vail Pass because of a number of accidents.  Then came the news that they closed down the highway going east bound – about 10 miles up the road.

I ended up stopping in Frisco.  I made a plea on facebook for anybody who knew somebody in the area who might be able to help me out.  I checked out the Holiday Inn – they were charging $400 per night.  So I went to a restaurant to get something to eat and figure out what I was going to do.  I checked the highway report every 5-10 minutes.  Around three hours into the closing I was about to give up – but I decided to check it one last time.  The highway had opened back up.

The highway was rough going.  The first part was fine because cars had been stopped there for hours – so there wasn’t much snow on the ground.  But when we hit the other side of a tunnel there was about 3 inches of compact snow on the ground.  It was very slow.  Eventually though we got to a low enough elevation that the snow turned to slush and finally just wet pavement.  I had left Flagstaff at around 7:30am Pacific time – I got into Boulder around 11:30pm Mountain time.  It felt so good to be in a warm place with family.

I ended up staying in Boulder for four nights.  On Saturday I went to the USATF Cross Country Nationals.  Matt and Jordan’s teammate Amy ended up winning the entire race.  She beat Jenny Simpson – who won worlds in the 1500m a few years ago.  If you’re interested in learning more about these incredible athletes from Northern Arizona – here is a link to theirwebpage.  Here is a video of the beginning of the womens' race.

After chatting with a bunch of strangers – including famous ultra runner Scott Jurek – I hung out with my family for awhile.  We ended up going to dinner and then went to swing dancing (my aunt goes every week) – where I learned how little I actually know about swing dancing.

The next day I explored Boulder a little bit more.  Boulder is one of those places that you don’t want to fall in love with - -but you just can’t help it.  The restaurants, the mountains, the bookstores etc – it’s just a magical place.

My aunt ended up getting some free tickets for the International Film Festival that was in town that weekend.  We randomly picked a documentary that was playing at the local high school.  Little did I know that I was about to have one of the most inspirational nights of my life.  The name of the movie is "The Current."
As the website states - "‘The Current’ highlights individuals of all abilities overcoming limitations through adaptive sports such as surfing scuba diving / free-diving, and ocean kayaking alongside whales and dolphins in exotic locations, including Bimini, Bahamas, Cozumel, Mexico, and Kauai, Hawaii. Each individual cast member shares inspirational stories of perseverance and an unwillingness to be held back by limitations."

The best way to tell you what they’re talking about is to see a picture I took of the cast, who did a Q&A after the movie, and I’ll describe how each person became physically challenged.

The blonde girl in the green – in the wheel chair is Mallory Weggemann.  In 2008, at the age of 18, she had an epidural injection to treat back pain.  There were complications from the procedure that left her paralyzed from the waist down.  An avid swimmer before the accident – she eventually started swimming in the Paralympics.  She has eight world records and won the 50m freestyle at the London Paralympic games.

Behind her and to the left is Missy Franklin – another incredible swimmer.  Missy doesn’t have any physical challenges.  She was in the film as an “ambassador” (along with Jean-Michel Cousteau the son of Jacque Cousteau).  She is only eighteen years old – and yet her maturity and incredible zest for life comes through in the film and in person.

To the right of Mallory is Grant Korgan (he is seated with dark hair).  Grant fractured his L1 vertebrae during snowmobile accident in 2010.  He was paralyzed initially – but has gained back some of the use of his legs.  He had an incredible quote in the movie – which was “Life is about experiences, and choosing to see the good in all things that happen for us – not to us.”  Grant has done some incredible things – including pushing himself 80 miles under his own power to the South Pole.

The man in a blue shirt with his hand on Grant’s shoulder is Leo Morales.  In 2008 he was diagnosed with a soft tissue cancer and was given only six months to live.  In order to try to save his life his right leg was amputated at the hip.  Although he contemplated suicide – he eventually chose life.  He is a scuba instructor now in Cozumel.

Behind Missy is a man in blue on crutches.  He is Anthony Robles.  Anthony was born with only one leg.  He didn’t let it stop him from participating in athletics.  He became a great wrestler – and actually won the 2011 National Championship in his weight class for Arizona State.  Below is another picture of Anthony.  That smile is genuine.  That’s the one thing that you take away from this movie.  All of these people – regardless of what life has thrown at them – are incredibly and undeniably happy.  They have chosen life – when the alternative probably seemed like a more reasonable choice at times.

The most incredible part of the Q&A was how many children asked questions (you can see them gathered around Mallory in the photo above).  In fact, it was almost all children.  One boy I remember in particular.  He asked what at first seemed like a question that might be offensive.  He asked, “How do you get up in the morning?”  But, as I thought about it – the question probably came from a real place of struggle.  Maybe he had trouble getting up in the morning.  Maybe he was bullied – or had a difficult home life.  He needed to know from these folks who he knew had it worse than he did - how did they do it?

All of these people (and there were more – you should check out all of their stories) went through the struggle exemplified in Whitman’s poem.  And all of them have found a way to use their “disability” in a way which not only has contributed a verse to the play of life – but has a real possibility of changing lives – if not the entire world.

To be continued . . .

Monday, February 24, 2014

Searching for El Dorado - Part IV

Finally a post about running.  My friend Claire, who I was staying with in Flagstaff, was a member of my old running group in Baltimore.  She has run several ultra-marathons, including a 100 miler.  I came into town on a Wednesday night – she suggested that I check out the “Thursday morning bagel run”.   She said that many times some pretty decent runners show up.  Flagstaff has become a running mecca.  The elevation and climate make it a great place to train.

I showed up to the run a little early.  There was only one guy there.  I introduced myself – he said his name was Jordan.  I could tell that he was a serious runner from his build – and his accent told me that he was from somewhere in Africa.  I was surprised to hear that he was from Zambia – I had never heard of a distance runner from Zambia.  He laughed when I said that – he agreed that “there were no runners in Zambia.”  He explained that he grew up mostly in South Africa – which is where he had taken up running.

The second guy to show up introduced himself as Matt.  I could tell he was a decent runner as well – but to be honest I didn’t know what either of these guys had run.  There were a group of about 10 runners – both men and women.  We started out relatively leisurely – but with given my elongated run the day before I was hoping that the pace wouldn’t go too fast.

I started out talking to a woman – probably in her early to mid-forties.  We had started talking because I said I was from Michigan and had some friends who ran there – and she knew some former Wolverines as well.  Although we didn’t know anybody in common because she was a few years older than me.  I asked her how long she had been in Flagstaff.  “Nineteen years”, she replied “ I was here before it got popular.” 

She started to fall off the pace a little bit – and told me I shouldn’t wait for her.  So I caught back up with the group.  I started talking to Jordan again.  I asked him what distances most of the guys on the Northern Elite team (who he and Matt ran for) competed at.  He said that it varied – but that he ran between 10 miles and the marathon.  I asked him what his marathon PR was – I was a little shocked when he said that he ran 2:13 at Grandma’s in Duluth last year.  That’s good enough to make the US Olympic team.

He said that Matt had just come off an even more impressive race.  He ran 1:01:47 (4:43 per mile) a few weeks earlier at the Houston Half-marathon.  The world-record is just under an hour.  We gradually moved up to where Matt was – I kind of wanted to ask him about his experience.  Running is a funny thing.  Many times it is like banging your head against a wall.  You work incredibly hard and your body seems to push back.  It can be very frustrating at times.  But if you can keep pushing amazing things can happen.  The great performances just flow from your body.  You don’t even seem to really be in control.  In my last post I wrote about balancing the civilized and animal parts of being human.  In a breakout race the animal takes over – the civilized part of you just needs to get out of the way.

He said that the plan had been to run ~63 minutes.  His coach had told them that the lead pack might put in a surge – but to let them go because they would come back.  At the highest level of running surging in races is very common.  The top guys might be averaging 4:40’s in the marathon – but many times someone will drop a 4:30 or even a mile in the high 4:20’s to shake off the pretenders.  It is the most brutal part of racing at that level. 

Matt said that the beginning of the race was a bit slower than anybody had anticipated.  Again – that’s the way things go sometimes.  Taking the lead takes extra energy – so, everybody kind of sits back waiting for somebody else to do the pacemaking.  Matt said that the group started to feel a little on edge with the slow pace – and that it gradually sped up.  There was a truck in front of them with the anticipated finish time – and as the miles went by the time kept on getting lower.

Finally the move happened.  It happened organically – as if the entire group decided when it was going to happen.  Matt said that he remembered what his coach said – but that something told him that if he let the group go they wouldn’t come back.  So, he went with the group.  This group included Meb Keflezighi – Olympic Silver medalist and New York Marathon Champion.

Matt didn’t quite have what it took to win that day – but he ended up only 25 seconds behind Meb (who won the race) and got himself a position on the Half-marathon World Championship team.

We talked about how much passion you have to have in order to run.  Matt admitted that he was just now able to give up his day job.  I asked Jordan how his training was coming.  He said pretty well – he had a 10 mile race in California coming up soon.  I asked what he hoped to run – he said 45 minutes – which is 4:30 per mile!  He said that his training had been hampered because he was working nights.  A 2:13 guy has to work nights!  That is crazy.

I realized though that these are my people.  Yes, they are much faster than I ever was.  But it’s not like they are living large.  Endurance sports are one of the few sports where everybody can participate in the same race as the pro’s.  But even more oddly – most of the recreational runners probably make more money than the pro’s.  It’s a sport where it’s entirely about the race.  And I love it because of that.  

I used to think that running was something that I would grow out of.  I now realize that it is an essential part of me.  Even the competition part is something that I’ll probably never give up.  And that’s ok.  I’m no longer ashamed of that.  It merely means that I’m dialed into what makes me happy – and I’m not afraid or embarrassed to pursue what makes me happy.
Sorry about the lack of pictures on this post - I'll be sure to rectify that on the next post.  At first I thought this would be a maximum of five posts on my trip.  But there's still a lot more than happened believe it or not.

To be continued . . .

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Searching for El Dorado - Part III

The morning after the Grand Canyon I found myself (or maybe my “self”?) in Flagstaff, AZ.  Flagstaff is a great place.  It has a beautiful historic downtown.  It is a college town (having grown up in one I tend to like college towns).  It has close to 300 days of sunshine a year.  It has mountains and is close to some of the most incredible natural places on the planet.  Actually I was talking to my friend listing all the places nearby (Grand Canyon, Sedona, Bryce Canyon, Zion national park, Arches national park, Canyonlands, Monument Valley etc) and I said “it’s almost like God used southern Utah and northern Arizona as a place to experiment on how He wanted the earth to look.”  All of these places are incredibly distinct.  I don’t quite understand how they can all exist so close together.
I decided to head west for a while.  I wanted to see the petroglyphs along I-40 – I wanted to see a glimpse of the Hoover Dam.  I’ll be honest – at this point I was sick of driving.  I was kind of sick of the trip in some ways.  I had just seen one of the greatest natural wonders of the world.  It seemed like my trip might be downhill from here.  I had planned to stay in Zion National Park – but I was stopping more frequently – and so instead of driving another few hours – I decided to just get a cheap room in Las Vegas.

I went dark.  I decided to turn off my phone - to stop looking at Facebook.  It was kind of an odd choice.  I was in the most populated city of the entire trip which ironically made me want to withdraw entirely from everybody.  I have always had mixed emotions about Las Vegas.  Especially after seeing the grandeur of national parks Vegas seems even more vulgar than it does normally.  But maybe vulgarity is not such a bad thing.  It means “lacking sophistication or good taste; unrefined.”

One thing our society does a very poor job of is balancing the need of humans to be both civilized and an animal.  The people I know who seem to have the most peace and happiness are those who allow themselves to express all of what it means to be a human.  Las Vegas was built as an opposition to normal society.  It is out in the middle of nowhere specifically because the world wouldn’t allow it to be built any other place.  The same could be said about America.  Some people say that the U.S. is a country of losers – as in most of the people who emigrated here were poor people from wherever they came from.  I don’t think that’s fair.  America is actually a country of dreamers.  A country of people who felt that whatever society they lived in was not allowing them to fully express who they were.

Yes, much of that was driven by economics.  But, there were plenty of poor people who didn’t emigrate.  It’s a special kind of person who leaves everything he has known on a gut feeling that he could be happier somewhere else.  As I said before – many of these people do fail.  They die in transit.  They die of starvation when they get there – like many pilgrims did in the new world.  The world doesn’t give us guarantees – but it does give us hope.

On my way out of Las Vegas I started to feel a little “off.”  I kept driving up I-15 – I was hoping to make Boulder, CO by the end of the day.  I had to stop and take a nap at one point.  And then it started – probably the most painful abdominal pain of my life.  I kept thinking it was going to go away.  But it just got worse.  At first I was worried that it might be appendicitis – but the pain wasn’t local – it was all over.  So, I figured that maybe it was some food poisoning that caused some trapped gas.  I bought some anti-gas pills.  They didn’t work.  Forty-five minutes later I was puking at a rest stop.  I didn’t even make it to the bathroom.  I just opened up the door and there it went.  I still didn’t feel much better.

Finally I decided that it probably wasn’t safe to be driving like this and I stopped.  I could hardly walk from the car to the motel.  The next four hours I lay in the fetal position while watching TV.  I watched one of the most incredible interviews I’ve ever seen – Charlie Rose interviewing Bill Murray.  I know that doesn’t sound promising – but Murray is very thoughtful in the interview.  He talks about his triumphs – but he talks more about his setbacks and failures.  My favorite part of the interview is when he says “you have to be available for this life that we’re living.  We’re in this life – and if you’re not available the ordinary time goes past and you didn’t live it . . . But if you’re available then life gets huge – you jump up dimensions.  Life becomes much more full.  You’re really living it.  . . . Say yes to life.  This is not easy for me to pay attention.  This is not easy ‘Life.’  And it’s not easy to really engage all the time.  It’s so much easier to zone – to get distracted – to day dream.  . . . Things are happening all the time to us and if you’re not aware you miss them.”  Do yourself a favor and watch the whole interview. 

The next morning I had a decision to make.  Where should I drive?  I could keep moving on I-15 to get back to Nebraska – but now I was going to miss a few appointments I had back in Omaha anyways.  Why not take a few more days?  So, I sent a message to a friend living in Flagstaff – and decided to go back for a couple nights.  I am very lucky to have such great friends who allow me to stay at their place with hardly any notice.  During this trip I stayed with three sets of friends/family.  None of them had more than 36 hours warning – and they all were incredibly welcoming.

I stopped just short of Flagstaff for a run in Sunset Volcano State Park.  The Volcano last erupted 1000 years ago.  But it feels more recent.  I ran down a road from the visitor center in search of some trails.  I found what looked like a trail – but it wasn’t very well marked.  My plan was to run 30-40 minutes.  I’m not sure when I realized I was lost.  I thought I knew what direction I was headed – the sun was going down so I knew which direction was west at least.  But eventually I realized that every hill seemed to look the same.  Eventually I decided I needed to find the largest hill I could find so that I could see a road.  It was incredibly difficult climbing this hill – it was steep – there was some snow and the volcanic rock was not the best footing in places.  Here is what I saw when I finally got to the top.


I thought that the "scar" across the middle photo was probably highway 89 that led to Flagstaff – but I needed to find the Visitor Center – which was close to two miles away from the highway.  I clamored down the other side of the hill in the direction that seemed to be right.  At this point I was a little scared.  As the sun went down it was getting pretty cold.  I had seen some large scat earlier – I was a little worried about mountain lions or some other big cat – who can many times be more dangerous than bears.  I did end up seeing two large Elk - they were a little too far away to take a good picture.

A sense of relief washed over me as I found a trail that seemed like it had a lot of foot traffic.  That’s always a good sign – because usually people don’t stray very far from the trail head.  I found the road – but still went the wrong way for a while.  Eventually I made it back to my car – after an hour and forty minutes – an hour longer than I was planning.  It was a great reminder.  I can get lost like anybody can – but I’m strong enough that I can save myself.  And being lost isn’t always a bad thing – it’s just how you react to being lost.  You need to just find a big hill so you can see the lay of the land and maybe see a beautiful view – and head off in the direction you think is best.  That pretty much sums up my entire trip.

But don't worry - I did have a few more adventures worth writing about.  To be continued . . .

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Searching for El Dorado - Part II

So far in my trip I had been focused on finding “real” places.  As Anthony Bourdain would say - what does each place do better than anywhere else?  Finding myself just east of Albuquerque I had an urge to find something unreal.  To find a place related to a fictional TV show.  Along with Sopranos and The Wire –Breaking Bad is my favorite show of all-time.  I decided to find out where Walter White’s house is located in Albuquerque.  Of course it isn’t his house – but rather that of a poor woman who made the mistake of allowing them to film at her house.  Apparently close to 400 people a week come to gawk and take pictures of their favorite meth dealer’s house.  I got there early enough that I was the only person there.  It felt like I could walk up and ring the door bell and ask – “White residence?”

From there I kept heading west towards Gallup.  One thing I tried to do was stop whenever I saw a sign for “Overlook” or “historical marker”.  I didn’t do this every time – otherwise I’d still be somewhere between Austin and Albuquerque.  But, one place did catch my eye about two hours from Gallup.  It was a view of San Jose de Laguna Mission – which was completed in 1699.  It was another reminder that the west is not as new as you might think. 

From there I stopped in Gallup to see some folks I’ve known since I was very young.  Tim and Donna Johnson are close friends of my parents.  Donna’s son Loren is who I stayed with in Austin.  Gallup was prettier than I had imagined.  Yes, it had sparse vegetation – but the mountains in the distance and the undulating terrain of the town was at least interesting.  We had lunch and I told them of my challenges.  It was a nice visit.

From there I kept heading west.  The road was mostly flat – but there were interesting outcroppings and plateaus off to the side.  My destination was the Grand Canyon. 

I’ve been to the Grand Canyon before – but it’s easy to forget how incredible it is.  I stopped at the very first overlook – but I wanted to get to the village before sundown.  Eventually I decided to stop short of the village.  It was quieter here and the views were just as incredible.  I stopped at the “Grand View” area.  There was a trail here that went all the way down to the Colorado River.  I decided to go down as far as I could while I still had light.

Being on the south side of the canyon there was quite a bit of snow because it was in the shadow for most of the day.  Given that the trail was not very wide and the drop-offs were incredibly steep – and I was only wearing running shoes – it was a little precarious.  Did I mention I have a problem with heights?  There’s not much to add other than some of the pictures I took.


One of my favorite poems is “Last Thoughts on Woody Gutherie” by Bob Dylan.  You can search for the whole poem – but the end of it goes:
“Where do you look for this lamp that’s a-burnin’
Where do you look for this oil well gushin’
Where do you look for this candle that’s glowin’
Where do you look for this hope that you know is there and out there somewhere
And your feet can only walk down two kinds of roads
Your eyes can only look through two kinds of windows
Your nose can only smell two kinds of hallways
You can touch and twist
And turn two kinds of doorknobs
You can either go to the church of your choice
Or you can go to Brooklyn State Hospital
You’ll find God in the church of your choice
You’ll find Woody Gutherie in Brooklyn State Hospital
And though it’s only my opinion
I may be right or wrong
You’ll find them both
In the Grand Canyon
At sundown.”

To be continued . . .